Charity and Individualism:
In the year of 1841, a writer by the name of Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay titled “Self-Reliance” about his philosophy on what it means to be a self-reliant individual through a series of ideas.
Emerson’s philosophy is one of optimism and hope, it is based as much on intuition as it is on logic or reason, and it is idealistic in its validation of the inherent worth of each individual form of existence. Two of the ideas that Emerson writes about are “Charity” and “Individualism.” He rejects the idea of charity being an “apology” and wants the individual to live free of shame. According to Emerson, it is ...view middle of the document...
In a passive, even gentle voice, Emerson states that it is better to live truly and obscurely than to have one's goodness extolled in public. It makes no difference to him whether his actions are praised or ignored. The important thing is to act independently: “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think . . . the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude” (5). Emerson contrasts the individual to society as “the crowd,” but does not advocate the individual's physically withdrawing from other people. There is a difference between enjoying privacy and being a social hermit.
Emerson begins work on individualism by emphasizing the importance of thinking for oneself rather than submissively accepting other people's ideas. As in almost all of his work, he promotes individual experience over the knowledge gained from books: “To believe that what is true in your private heart is true for all men — that is genius” (1). A person who chooses to rely on others' opinions lacks the creative power necessary for strong, bold individualism. This absence of conviction results not in different ideas, but in the acceptance of the same ideas: now secondhand thoughts that this person initially perceived.
Emerson would like an individual to “Trust thyself” (2), a motto that ties together the first section of the essay. It is cowardly to rely on others’ judgment, without inspiration or hope. On the other end, a person with self-esteem exhibits originality and is childlike (unspoiled by selfish needs), yet mature. It is to this adventure of self-trust that Emerson invites us: We are to be guides and adventurers, destined to participate in an act of creation modeled on the classical myth of bringing order out of chaos.
Emerson then focuses his attention on the importance of an individual's resisting pressure to conform to external norms, including those of society, which conspires to defeat self-reliance in its members. The process of so-called “maturing” becomes a process of conforming that Emerson challenges. He writes;
“Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness” (3-4).
He states a radical, even extreme, position on the matter. Responding to the objection that loyally following one's inner voice is wrong because the intuition may be evil, he writes, “No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature . . . the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it” (4). In other words, it is better to be true to an evil nature than to behave “correctly” because of society's demands or conventions.
Emerson is opposed to the idea of charity being as an “apology” and not out of concern for others. He would much prefer it if individuals didn’t give at all and lived their life, free of the shame. On the other end, Emerson would like it if...